[Cross-Posted from James Chittenden’s Blog]

“Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”

I talk with government customers constantly about the importance of good UX (user experience) when designing and building even mission critical line of business apps. To most public sector audiences I chat with though – often times more than not, I typically get the response that we shouldn’t apply “design” just because it’s becoming more and more trendy today.

But I beg to differ if you REALLY want to connect with your customers and users of the apps you build.

Take the recent article in the NY Times by Phil Patton, “Making Sense of Complex Controls” highlighting the HUGE ROI you can get when applying practical, yet simple user research when trying to find what makes the most sense for the UI.

The New York Times
October 10, 2010alt
TRYOUTS In Ford's program to make dashboard designs consistent across all of its models, the shape, operation and placement of controls was tested using simple mockups that could be tried in a wide variety of configurations.

In this case, it’s all about the tactile controls and how users respond to each button. Since Ford has discovered an increasing amount of young car buyers are tech savvy Xbox players and really prefer the iPod/Zune/etc button interface, the result of several UI prototypes led to a starkly different approach in a car.

Does this mean the new Ford Fiesta will break all sales records and obliterate the competition? Not necessarily. But what it DOES mean, is this vehicle will most likely resonate in a completely different way than its predecessors all because of user research.

And the same thing applies to software design. Create prototypes. Lots of them. Over and over and over, until you get it right. You’re not designing cars, so it’s not only cheaper, but faster and easier. Get the prototypes in front of your users EARLIER than you’d typically expect…and I can’t reiterate this enough. Ford wouldn’t try to apply design changes after they’ve built the entire vehicle, so you shouldn’t try to do the same to your product.

Painting a car doesn’t change it’s effectiveness to a user. Don’t try and “paint” on good UX. It’s all about forming a connection with your end user that resonates with how they think and interact with the world.

So get out there and prototype that vanilla line of business app, and maybe you can go from this…

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…to this.

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Think about it.

James